Inspiring Women in Telecommunications

The first Women’s Day was celebrated in 1909 in the United States. Two years later, the International Women’s Day (IWD) was registered for the first time in Austria, Germany, Denmark, and Switzerland. It is now celebrated each year on March 8th in most countries across the globe.

Women have made significant contributions to every professional industry, including telecommunications. In fact, there’s a growing movement for the tech industry, traditionally dominated by men, to be more gender inclusive and celebrate achievements of #WomenInTech. To commemorate this day, we looked into the groundbreaking inventions of the most inspiring and pioneering women in the telecommunications industry.

The First Computer Algorithm – Ada Lovelace

The very first computer programmer – who created the first algorithm – was the woman Ada Lovelace, a gifted mathematician, who discovered that numbers could be used to represent more than just quantities: they could represent data.

Lovelace worked together with Cambridge professor Charles Babbage in an Analytical Engine – the world’s first general purpose computer.

She discovered that machines designed to read numbers could also be made to manipulate any data represented by those numbers. She even thought devices like that could compose music, produce graphics, and aid in scientific research. She was proven right over 100 years later.

Telecommunications Research – Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson

Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson, a theoretical physicist, and inventor has been credited with making many advances in science.

She followed her interests in physics to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) where she received a bachelor and doctoral degree. She became the first African-American woman to earn a Ph.D. from MIT.

Dr. Jackson conducted breakthrough scientific research that enabled others to invent the portable fax, the touch-tone telephone, solar cells, fiber optic cables, and the technology behind caller ID and call waiting.

Wireless Transmissions Technology – Hedy Lamarr

The film star Hedy Lamarr wasn’t just a beautiful woman, strove to pursue different interests.

With the inventor George Anthiel, she developed a “Secret Communications System” that could manipulate radio frequencies at irregular intervals between transmission and reception. This allows the creation of an unbreakable code that helped to defeat the Nazis in WWII. Lamarr received little recognition for her efforts at the time, but her status as a pioneer is now widely recognized. This “spread spectrum” system became the backbone of current wireless technology, including wi-fi networks, GPS and Bluetooth.

Home Security System – Marie Van Brittan Brown

 Patented in 1969, Marie Van Brittan Brown’s system for closed-circuit television security was created to help people ensure their own security. Her design formed the basis for modern CCTV systems used for police work and home security today.

Brown’s invention had a set of peepholes and a camera that could slide up and down. Anything the camera picked up would appear on a monitor. An additional feature of Brown’s invention was that a person also could unlock a door remotely.

Detail of Marie Van Brittan Brown’s original design for a home security system. (U.S. Patent and Trademark Office)
Detail of Marie Van Brittan Brown’s original design for a home security system. (U.S. Patent and Trademark Office)

Computer Programming – Grace Murray Hopper

Grace Murray Hopper, a rear admiral of the U.S. Navy, was also a computer scientist.

 Her belief that programming languages should be easily understood was highly influential on the development of one of the first programming languages: COBOL. It is primarily due to Grace Hopper’s influence that programmers now use “if/then” instead of 1s and 0s.

While working on a Mark II Computer in Dahlgren, Virginia, in 1947, Hopper and her crew founded a moth that was stuck in a relay.

While neither Hopper nor her associates mentioned the phrase “debugging” in their logs, the case was held as an instance of literal “debugging.”

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